Stop trying to make Israel a wedge issue

It is way past time to call a truce: the security and prosperity of Israel are too important to the Jewish people to be used in an attempt at temporary political gains.

Israel US flags (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Israel US flags
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The United States signed the nuclear agreement between the P5+1 countries and Iran nearly a year ago, but the partisan fault line that developed in the Jewish world during that legislative struggle remains. It surfaces constantly during policy discussions on the US-Israel relationship – and it is time for this to end.
This tension, more than anything, threatens the bipartisan wall-to-wall congressional support for Israel that has been the hallmark of the national pro-Israel community’s decades-long successful advocacy efforts. For the sake of Israel and the US-Israel relationship, we must move past discussions regarding votes by individual members of Congress, decisions by certain organizations to oppose or support the deal, the appropriateness of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address before a joint session of Congress, or whether President Barack Obama is sufficiently pro-Israel. These discussions are unproductive and distract from the current challenges facing Israel and the US-Israel relationship. We must return to the relationship’s longstanding bipartisan nature.
Israel also is emphasizing this sentiment. A spokesperson at the Israeli Consulate General in New York denied former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s claim that Netanyahu favored Republican nominee Donald Trump to be the next US president. Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer went to great lengths at a gathering of Jewish leaders at the Democratic National Convention to stress that Israel is a bipartisan cause and to present a progressive case for Israel.
But for some, the Iran vote continues to be all that matters in determining whether one is “pro-Israel.” That is somewhat understandable since a nuclear-armed Iran would be an existential threat to the State of Israel, whose political leadership from Left to Right opposed the accord. In our national debate, those who supported the deal were painted as naïve, lacking respect for Israel’s security, failing to understand the region and even as betraying Israel. These are dangerous assertions. After all, some of Israel’s top former military and intelligence leaders publicly backed the agreement.
(The JCRC of Greater Washington reluctantly opposed the Iran deal, stating that it did not comply with five parameters that we believed were necessary to ensure maximize deterrence against Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons.)
To continue using the Iran vote as a litmus test for whether a member of Congress is pro-Israel is a shortsighted strategy, especially as more than 90 percent of incumbents typically win reelection and control of the Senate and House invariably alternates. Since the passage of the Iran deal, Congress has consistently supported Israel on a bipartisan basis.
It is an annual tradition at the AIPAC Policy Conferences for leaders and members of Congress of both parties to voice their support for Israel publicly. By continuing to use the Iran vote as a litmus test, we risk alienating members whose votes may be crucial on future items involving military aid and strategic cooperation with Israel or on resolutions that back Israel’s right to defend itself or condemn boycotts against Israel.
The Jewish community cannot afford to remain divided over the Iran deal. It’s over and done with. Failing to come together will hurt Israel. Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic State, terrorism and other security challenges facing the Jewish state require a unified Jewish community that is laser-focused on broadening the tent of pro-Israel activism and helping Israel secure the means to confront these threats.
Let’s remember that whether for or against the deal, the Jewish community is united in its belief that Iran must be held to the toughest accountability on the agreement and prevented from ever acquiring nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Iran must be pressured on items outside the accord, such as its support for terrorism and ongoing missile proliferation.
In the face of isolationist elements on the Right and those on the extreme Left who attack Israel under the false banner of human rights, we need to return to basics. We must encourage Jewish activists within both political parties to reinforce the importance of the US-Israel relationship to American strategic interests, and to demonstrate that unlike those of its neighbors, Israel’s values match our own.
It is in neither the American Jewish community’s interests nor Israel’s when leading Jewish political figures and organizations try to use Israel as a wedge issue to garner small increases in Jewish political support. It is way past time to call a truce: the security and prosperity of Israel are too important to the Jewish people to be used in an attempt at temporary political gains.
The author is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, DC.